Monday, January 18, 2016

Som Baoutha

The Nineveh Feast (Syriac: Baoutha d-Ninwaye) is a three-day celebration that is composed of prayers and fasting that Assyrians of Church of the East, the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, and the Syriac Catholic Church (as well as The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and Syro-Malankara Catholic Church in India) consider sacred. The word Bo'utho/Ba'uta is an Syriac word for "pleading", and from this meaning we receive the title of this commemoration. This annual observance occurs exactly 3 weeks before the start of lent. This tradition has been practiced by the Syriac Christians since the 6th century.

In the 6th century, a plague inflicted the Northern regions of modern-day Iraq or what was called at the time, Nineveh. The plague was devastating the city and the villages surrounding it, and out of desperation the people ran to their bishop to find a solution. The bishop sought help through the scriptures and came upon the story of Jonah in the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament story, God sent the prophet Jonah to warn the city of Nineveh of great destruction unless they repent for their sins or as it is directly quoted: "the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amathi, saying: Arise and go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach in it: for the wickedness thereof is come up before me." Jonah did not wish for Nineveh to be saved since they (the people of Nineveh) were the enemies of Israel and preferred Nineveh to be destroyed. Instead of listening to God Jonah fled to Tarshish (modern day Spain), across the Mediterranean Sea. During his voyage a violent storm occurred. The other sailors feared the boat would be completely destroyed and kill everyone if they did not get rid of Jonah. So they decided to throw Jonah overboard. As soon as Jonah hit the water, a giant fish swallowed Jonah whole. Jonah found himself in the dark, in stomach of the fish. Jonah began to pray earnestly for God to save him. For three days and nights Jonah prayed and asked for forgiveness for his disobedience. On the third night the fish became violently ill and swam near to the seashore where it vomited Jonah onto the beach. Jonah thankful that he had been spared started on the journey to Nineveh. Reaching the walls of Nineveh, he began preaching to people as he walked through its streets, "In forty days God will destroy this city because of your great sins." The king of Assyria became disturbed at the message that Jonah preached. He called his people together and commanded them to wear sackcloth clothing and to let neither man nor animals eat as the people prayed and repented of their wicked ways. All of the people of the city cried and prayed and asked God to forgive them for their sins. The city then was not destroyed.

Upon looking at the story the bishop therefore ordered a 3-day fast to ask for God's forgiveness. At the end of the 3-day fast, the plague had miraculously stopped, therefore, on the 4th day the people rejoiced.

To this day, Assyrians of both faiths, Catholic and Orthodox, both in their original lands and in the diaspora, still observe the fast 3 days each year.


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